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Clean those reusable shopping bags
June 15th, 2011
11:25 AM ET

Clean those reusable shopping bags

More and more of us are trying to live greener. We buy organic, we recycle. We even are being encouraged to use our own bags when we shop. It's all an effort to avoid waste and save the planet. But now, one of those planet saving efforts apparently comes with its own set of problems. Those reusable bags, if not handled correctly, might actually cause consumers harm.

On Tuesday the Canadian health department issued an environmental advisory to make sure consumers use the bags correctly. It recommends cleaning the bags and doing it often.  The Canadian health department found that bacteria and other things were living and growing in those consumer friendly bags – things we really don't want around our food, or our family.

A study done in 2009 by Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto based Sporometrics, uncovered that many bags have bacteria, mold, yeast and even some more disgusting stuff in them.

And those unwelcome bag bugs can cause some very unpleasant things.
The first risk is food poisoning, but other issues include skin infections like boils, allergic reactions, asthma attacks and even ear infections.

But before you ditch the reusable and go back to land fill loving plastic bags there is one thing you need to know: The study was funded by the Environment and Plastics Industry Council or EPIC. So basically the plastic people paid for it. This shouldn't invalidate the guidelines, but also shouldn't overly scare you about using those reusable bags either.

Just like you wash sheets and towels, wash your re-usable bags. And wash them often, either in warm water or with a mild bleach and water mixture. Also make sure you wash the counter tops where you put those same bags because if it lives on the bags it can live on your counters.

When you shop, if possible, separate your goods by putting fruit in one bag for instance and meats in another. Things that leak, like packaged meats probably need another wrapping to be on the safe side. But keep in mind even those precautions might not do the trick as bacteria can be transferred by the store bagging clerk from one reusable bag to another.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.